The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News September 15, 2006

Experts and Scholars Come to Campus for a Conference on Health Economics

As the American health care system becomes larger and more complex, economic questions expand geometrically along with the nation’s population. To answer these questions, last weekend the Oberlin Department of Economics hosted the conference “Incentives and Choice in Health Care: The Contributions and Limitations of Economics.”

The Department invited nearly two dozen of the nation’s most learned economists and medical professionals to present their findings on the present and future of American health care at the conference.

The conference represented the first of its kind to be held at Oberlin College and was attended primarily by academics and members of the surrounding community, although it was also open to and attended by students.

Dr. Delos M. Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic Health System, opened the conference in a speech titled “Leading Health Care into a New Economic Paradigm” that focused on how to balance the growing financial opportunities of the health care industry with continuing to prioritize patients.

“It is not enough to measure costs,” he said. “We must measure quality.”

He did point out, however, that advances in measurement tools and techniques could be used to measure patient benefits as well as profit, he said.

“[To] move from a doctor-centered health care system to a patient-centered health care system, [economists must create] benchmarks to measure, mark and improve,” Cosgrove said. He emphasized that the “benchmarks” would have to measure improvements in the quality of hospitals and clinics as well — not just purely economic matters.

Problems arising within the health care system, Cosgrove said, are of drastic importance and will only continue to grow in significance as more baby boomers retire and health care spending increases.

“Of all the debates raging across America, this is the only one that involves all of us,” he said. “We will all someday be patients.”

The conference’s keynote address was delivered by Henry Aaron, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In his speech titled “Health Economics: What do we Know? What Could we Know?” he listed vital questions of health economics that had either been sufficiently studied or had been relatively ignored. Some of his questions, such as “How much does it cost to add a year to a human life by selected interventions?” had been researched and answered to a satisfactory extent; others, such as “How much is health care worth?’ have not. Aaron allowed that some health care questions “may be unanswerable.”

Other speakers included Joseph P. Newhouse, a professor of health policy and management at Harvard and an editor of the Journal of Health Economics, and Paul J. Gertler, a professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley.


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